This essay has a total of 575 words and 2 pages.


Ordinary People is the story of both Conrad and Calvin Jarrett. Because the novel focuses
on two different people, there are several conflicts throughout the novel that are specific
to those individuals. The central question in Conrad's story is whether he will be able to
recover after his suicide attempt. As Dr. Berger points out, half the people who attempt
suicide will try to do it again at some point in their lives. The inclusion of Karen's suicide
towards the end of the novel is a way of reminding the reader that Conrad may not have
recovered completely even when he seems to be getting better; after all, Karen seemed to
be doing well when Conrad met her for a Coke earlier in the novel.
The main question in Calvin's story is whether he and Beth will be able to make amends.
Their conflict is based essentially in a communication problem: Calvin believes that the
way to heal the wounds of the past is to talk through them and discuss feelings, while
Beth only wants to move on from the past. She dislikes Calvin's attitude and his
insistence on worrying about his son. The conflict between the two parents is resolved at
the end of the novel when Beth leaves.
Structurally, the novel does two things. First, it alternates back and forth between the
stories of Calvin and Conrad, with each chapter shedding some new light on their
individual struggles and conflicts. This alternating style gives the novel a kind of
mirror-image structure: just as Conrad gets better over the course of the novel until he is
really healed, the marriage between Calvin and Beth spirals downward until it fails.
The second structural tactic of the novel is that it begins in a world that is already in some
way ruined: Buck has already died, and Conrad has already tried to commit suicide even
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